Friday, 20 June 2014

Orphan Black – Season 1 Review

Tatiana Maslany excels in this British-Canadian high-concept sci-fi drama about a set of real-world clones.

Sarah’s (Maslany) world is turned upside down when she witnesses a women jumping in front of a train. But, if that wasn’t bad enough, said woman is physically identical to her. Panicked by the whole ordeal, she gathers up all the women’s belongings and assumes her identity; inadvertently kicking the door open to something far bigger than she could ever have imagined.

Throughout the season, Maslany plays upwards of half a dozen different characters and she delivers a mind-blowing piece of character acting. Her performances gel the whole show together. She works tirelessly to provide each clone with a distinct set of features; different accents, temperaments and body language . . . the list goes on.


And if that wasn’t enough, the production values are tremendous. Every episode feels part of an aesthetic whole and there are a number of running cinematic techniques that tie together to create a stylish visual sensibility. The use of attractive establishing location shots and invasive exploitation scenes make the whole show exude class. The directors also execute the multiple-clone shots excellently and the way Maslany acts against herself is seamless. But I must also give a big shout-out to Kathryn Alexandre who acts as Maslany’s body double. It must be a pretty thankless task, but her work is exceptional throughout.

Trevor Yuile’s score must also be commended. Like the tonal transitions in the show, the music seamlessly swings through a host of different emotions. At times it pulses under the dramatic beats, to then drift off into a deeply moving emotional accompaniment and then it worms itself into your psyche to play on the overriding sense of paranoia and confusion.

If the score is anything to go by, it seems the writers have only began to scratch the surface of this story. As the season neared its conclusion, it would have been easy to follow a more traditional dramatic progression; a slow-build escalating to an action-packed conclusion. But the show’s creators, John Fawcett and Graeme Manson, chose to take a different path. At first it had me feeling slightly cheated, but they remain relentless . . . just without an abundance of action. It’s refreshing to see a show blaze its own trail and really surprise its audience.

Instead of upping the ante with action, they escalate the drama with increasingly troubling emotional and philosophical questions. The writers don’t shy away from scientific complexity, instead they embrace it by making it seem important to the characters.

The moral quandaries reach dizzying heights as the show deals with issues of motherhood and scientific advancement. It also stands as one of the greatest mainstream portrayals of the nature vs. nurture argument. It makes this vitally important real-world issue tangible, relatable and, most importantly, human.

In what has to stand out as one of the most impressive debut seasons I’ve ever seen, ‘Orphan Black’ is a totally engrossing and deeply challenging drama. Season two is set to be a blast.


★★★★★